Winifred Wagner: A Life at the Heart of Hitler's Bayreuth

Brigitte Hamann, Author, Alan Bance, Translator , trans. from the German by Alan Bance. Harcourt $35 (582p) ISBN 978-0-15-101308-1

Viennese historian Hamann's important biography tells the complex story of Winifred Wagner (1897–1980), Richard Wagner's daughter-in-law, who headed the Bayreuth opera festival during Hitler's rule. An impressionable 18-year-old, British-born Winifred Williams married Wagner's middle-aged only son, Siegfried, in 1915, bearing him the heirs the Wagners so desperately wanted. When in 1923 Hitler solicited the Wagners for political support, an infatuated Winifred joined the Nazi Party, becoming Hitler's loyal devotee. Widowed in 1930, Winifred assumed directorship of Bayreuth amid rumors of future betrothal to Hitler, who, as Reich chancellor, put the festival center stage in his political campaigns. As increasing numbers of Jewish artists were exiled, Winifred bargained to gain exemptions for her friends and was gradually frozen out by Hitler. Without claiming heroic status for Winifred or denying her anti-Semitism, Hamann (Hitler's Vienna ) meticulously places Winifred's aid in the context of the nationalist, anti-Semitic Wagners and their circle. Hamann describes the public denunciation of Winifred by her American émigré daughter, Friedelind; Winifred's equally problematic relationships with her other children; and her postwar openness about her affection for Hitler. This is a fascinating portrait not only of Winifred but of the Wagners and their milieu. 8 pages of b&w photos; map. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 08/07/2006
Release date: 12/01/2006
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Hardcover - 582 pages - 978-1-86207-671-6
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